Oxford to consider a Sunday alcohol test

OXFORD – After hearing downtown restaurateurs’ proposal last month to allow Sunday alcohol sales on an experimental basis, aldermen will hear residents’ responses to the idea tonight at their regular 6 p.m. meeting at City Hall.
Oxford Restaurant Association President Jerry Jordan asked on May 18 that the board approve and seek permission from the State Tax Commission to allow alcohol sales on July 4 and seven Sundays that coincide with University of Mississippi home football games.
“Our businesses can have more business, our city can have more revenues, our citizens, tourists and sports fans can have more choices, and we can all still enjoy dignified Sundays in Oxford,” Jordan wrote in an open letter.
Many city leaders and other residents have long expressed opposition to Sunday alcohol sales for fear it would extend the bar culture that dominates downtown on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights to what is traditionally the town’s quietest day.
Proponents, however, say the prohibition causes the city, whose conference center is struggling to operate in the black, loses tourism business to Tupelo, Starkville and other area cities that allow Sunday alcohol service.
Under the current proposal, Sunday service of beer, light wine, wine or liquor would be limited to full-menu restaurants between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.
By state law, liquor stores may not be open on Sunday. Cities may, with State Tax Commission approval, allow Sunday wine, liquor and beer/light wine sales in restaurants. They have wide latitude in whether and under what circumstances to allow Sunday beer and light wine sales in both restaurants and stores.
Past exemptions
For several years Oxford had secured one-time exceptions when New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day fell on Sunday, and in 2006 when Ole Miss hosted a Sunday football game. This year, however, the Tax Commission declined the city’s request for a Valentine’s Day exception, which gave much of the impetus for the proposed experiment.
When severe weather forced the Double Decker Festival in April to be moved to Sunday, patrons’ inability to buy alcohol at downtown restaurants increased the calls for change.
The restaurant association proposal would not include retail beer and light wine sales for off-premises consumption nor include bars that charge admission, play loud music or for which food does not represent at least 60 percent of their business.
“If at any point we can’t offer these sales and maintain the dignity of Sundays, then we stop the process,” Jordan told city officials.
If aldermen were to approve the experiment, the next step would be to ask the State Tax Commission to allow the eight exceptions requested for this summer and fall.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal